09 April 2021

Prince Philip and Women He Loved


Just two months short of his 100th birthday, The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh passed away on April 9, 2021 at his home at Windsor Castle. Born a Prince of Greece and Denmark, he was born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, the youngest child but only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. He was the longest-lived descendant of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (his great-great-grandmother) and of King Christian IX of Denmark (his great-grandfather) and of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia (his great-great grandfather). He was the third longest-lived member of the British Royal Family, after his wife's aunt Princess Alice Duchess of Gloucester and his mother-in-law Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

Before he was two, in the tumult that was the Greek monarchy, his father was charged with treason and sentenced to death. His uncle, King Constantine II, was exiled (again). The British helped get Andrew's sentence commuted and sent a warship to rescue him and his family. As the story goes, an orange crate was used as an improvised cradle. After that, his parents eventually went their separate ways with his father living an essentially bachelor lifestyle and his mother undergoing psychotherapy, and for a time, being committed to an asylum. Young Philip became something like a royal foster kid, bouncing around among his much older sisters, his many royal aunts and uncles, and his maternal grandmother, Victoria Marchioness of Milford Haven, who was the older sister of the Empress Alexandra and Grand Duchess Serge of Russia, both of whom had been murdered by the Bolsheviks just a few years before Philip was born. 

Philip started school in Paris then went to Germany before being enrolled at Gordonstoun in Scotland at age 12. When he was 17, he went to the British naval academy at Dartmouth, and then joined the British Royal Navy just after the start of World War II. He served with distinction, but spent much of his leave time back in England, where his long acquaintance with a distant cousin was turning into something else.

The future Queen Elizabeth II spent her adolescence at Windsor Castle, referred to as an undisclosed location in the countryside, during the war. Philip was an occasional guest. They became penpals while both she and some members of his family hoped this would prove a royal match. After the war, Philip remained in the Royal Navy while a romance blossomed. The couple were engaged in 1947 after he surrendered his Greek titles and citizenship. With no realm surname of his own, he adopted the one used by his mother's British family: Mountbatten. For a brief time before his future father-in-law King George VI created him Duke of Edinburgh and a British Royal Highness, he was known simply as Lt. Philip Mountbatten, R.N. (Read my post about their romance The Moonstruck Princess and Her Greek God.)

Elizabeth and Philip were married at Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947. They spent much of their early marriage in Malta where he was posted with the Navy. By the time she unexpectedly became Queen on the early death of her father, their first two children, Charles and Anne, had been born. Her accession brought his naval career to an end, and Philip struggled for a bit trying to figure out what exactly the job of the Queen's husband was supposed to be. Within a decade, he had settled into and/or created his role leading to a more stable period in his marriage, which resulted in the births of two more children, Andrew and Edward.

He remained a loyal supporter to his wife, while adding his own stamp on things -- creating the Duke of Edinburgh awards, modernizing the royal homes and the royal operations. Along the way, he received much criticism for his sometimes brash manner or insensitive remarks, but he also received much praise for his dedication to service, to the nation, and to his wife. In November 2020, they celebrated 73 years of marriage. He is survived by his wife, four children, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

I had been planning a series of posts in honor of his 100th birthday focused on the Women He Loved. I am now launching the series two months too soon. Please come back to read about the women who shared Prince Philip's life, including:

Princess Alice of Battenberg, mother
Princess Victoria of Hesse, grandmother
Grand Duchess Olga Constantinova of Russia, grandmother
Princess Margarita of Greece, sister
Princess Theodora of Greece, sister
Princess Cecile of Greece, sister
Princess Sophie of Greece, sister
Princess Marie Bonaparte, aunt
Countess Nadejda de Torby, aunt
Edwina Ashley, aunt
Queen Elizabeth II, wife
Princess Anne Princess Royal, daughter
Princess Beatrice of York, granddaughter
Princess Eugenie of York, granddaughter
Zara Phillips Tindall, granddaughter
Lady Louise Windsor, granddaughter

28 February 2021

Birthplace of a Queen

Princess Elizabeth of York
from Time Magazine via Wikimedia Commons
Once upon a time in a rather unremarkable townhome, the future Queen of England was born in the middle of the night. Although it was indeed a royal birth -- Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks was officially in attendance to ensure no changeling was smuggled in to replace the royal baby -- but no one expected this child to inherit the throne. This was the child of the Duke of York, second son of King George V. His older brother was certainly father the heir. When the newborn turned out to be a girl, her distance from the throne seemed even further in an era when younger brothers would supersede older sisters in the Line of Succession. The royal parents even opted not to include Victoria among their daughter's names, breaking a royal tradition for all of the previous descendants of Queen Victoria. King George made note of it in his diary only to declare that it probably didn't matter. 

But, fate has a funny way of doing what it will. And so it was that 25 years later, when this baby girl became Queen Elizabeth II, she also became the first British monarch not to be born in a palace or on a royal estate since King George came over from Hanover two centuries earlier.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born at 2 a.m. by Caesarean section on the 21st of April in 1926 in her maternal grandparents home located at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London. (See my post about her birth, A Princess Is Born.) Although her parents, Prince Albert The Duke of York and the former Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, were less than week from celebrating their third anniversary, the couple was still essentially homeless. They had been offered White Lodge in Richmond Park but declined it. Originally a hunting lodge built for King George II, its previous royal residents included his daughter Princess Amelia, George III's daughter Princess Mary Duchess of Gloucester, and George III's granddaughter Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. Mary Adelaide raised her own family there, including her daughter Mary, who had married King George VI and was therefore Princess Elizabeth of York's paternal grandmother. Unfortunately, the house had not been updated in decades and was a bit of a wreck when the Yorks decided against living there. Instead they had bounced around from rental to rental in search of their "forever home". As the Duchess prepared for the birth of her first child, she longed to be somewhere more familiar than a temporary rental or a stodgy royal palace. She opted instead to have her baby in her parents' London home.

The Duchess of York, better known to posterity as the long-lived Queen Mother, was the youngest daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and Nina Cavendish-Bentinck. Their ancestral home was Glamis Castle (of Macbeth fame) in Angus, Scotland. They also had an English estate at St. Paul's Walden Bury in Hertfordshire. Both of those homes had been in the Bowes-Lyon family for centuries. Number 17 Bruton Street, however, had no ancestral connections. The Earl had acquired the house less than five years earlier to serve as the family's base during the London social season. Although located in tawny Mayfair between Regent Street and Berkeley Street, the house was fairly typical of the neighborhood. A five-story 18th Century house large enough for the extensive Bowes-Lyon family (Elizabeth was one of 10 siblings) and their servants.

By the time they moved to Bruton Street from previously rented London addresses, their daughter Elizabeth had already made her society debut and had earned herself many suitors. The more serious young men were outpaced by the Prince, not because he was more handsome or more charming, and definitely not because he was royal. He had to propose three times before Elizabeth finally said yes during a weekend visit to St. Paul's Walden Bury. That Monday, he drove her to 17 Bruton Street before taking her to lunch at sister Princess Mary's London home, Chesterfield House, where they were joined by their older brother, the Prince of Wales. Prince Albert, or Bertie as he was called, returned Elizabeth to Bruton Street while he dashed off to Sandringham House to see his delighted parents. The Bowes-Lyon home was then besieged by telephone calls from "hundreds of reporters clamouring!" she wrote, "Last day of peace I suppose."

Embed from Getty Images

A few months later, the eyes of the world were on Bruton Street as the "commoner" royal bride departed for her wedding as Westminster Abbey. It was a cold rainy day in the middle of economic troubles that would soon erupt into strikes, but the tiny little Lady was a ray of sunshine for the crowd that had gathered. On her father's arm, Lady Elizabeth departed the town home at 11:12 a.m. in a state landau escorted by Metropolitan Police on horseback. 

Three years later, Bertie and Elizabeth moved into 17 Bruton Street ahead of their child's arrival. Queen Mary longed to be present for the birth, but feared her arrival would draw attention from the press, writing to her son, that's "the last thing one wants is for any inkling of this to appear in the papers, so I hope you will both understand & will not think me a heartless wretch." Elizabeth own mother was ill at the time and so could not be in the room either. Queen Mary recommended that they send for Elizabeth's older sister, Rose Countess Granville, because having someone who has been through childbirth already is "such a comfort."

Elizabeth undoubtedly needed such comfort. It was a long a difficult labor. The doctors had anticipated a breech birth and knew that the petite duchess might struggle to deliver the baby. They planned ahead for the caesarean delivery, but the procedure was still considered risky. It was also thought that it could hinder future pregnancies and deliveries. The Duke and Duchess decided that it was worth the risk. If one child was all they had, they would be content. 

So, while the Duke paced the entire house, the Home Secretary waited patiently, the little princess finally emerged by a "certain line of treatment", as the official bulletin stated. The King and Queen were awakened at 4 a.m. to hear the news. Later that day, they drove up from Windsor to meet their first granddaughter, whom Queen Mary "too sweet & pretty." Grandmother and granddaughter would develop a very close relationship over the years.

By Spudgun67 via Wikimedia Commons
The York family remained in residence at 17 Bruton Street for several more weeks as the Duchess recovered from the birth. The future Queen didn't visit a royal palace for the first several weeks of her life, finally being taken to Buckingham Palace for her christening on May 29 by the Anglican Archbishop of York before being whisked back to Bruton Street.

Today, a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant stands at 17 Bruton Street in the heart of a bustling commercial district. Although some reports say the old house was destroyed in the London Blitz other say it and the neighboring home were actually taken down in 1937. Whatever the fate of the house itself, a blue plaque at Hakkasan restaurant now reads, "On the site stood the townhouse of the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne where Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, later to become Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, was born on 21 April 1926."


Works Consulted

"A Look at 17 Bruton Street." The Royal Post. 16 November 2014. theroyalpost.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/a-look-at-17-bruton-street/ Accessed 18 January 2021.

Bradford, Sarah. Elizabeth. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1996.

Johnstone, Anna. "The Queen's SURPRISING birthplace is now a Chinese takeaway." Hello! 26 March 2019, www.hellomagazine.com/cuisine/2019032671328/queen-elizabeth-birthplace-mayfair-hakkasan-chinese-restaurant/. Accessed 18 January 2021.

Murphy, Victoria. "Homes fit for a Queen: From her birthplace to her current Royal residence of Buckingham Palace," The Daily Mirror,  10 June 2016. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/homes-fit-queen-birthplace-current-8145399 Accessed 18 January 2021.

Shawcross, William. The Queen Mother: The Official Biography. Vintage Books, 2009.

Timms, Elizabeth Jane. "The Queen's London Birthplace: 17 Bruton St." Royal Central. 20 April 2017, royalcentral.co.uk/uk/queen/the-queens-london-birthplace-17-bruton-st-59298/ Accessed 18 January 2021.

Williams, Kate. Young Elizabeth: The Making of a Queen. Pegasus Books, 2015.

18 January 2021

Henry VIII's Most Beloved Wife

Henry VIII had six wives, but did he love any of them? After I recently re-shared my 20009 post, The Most Neglected Princess, in which I assert my belief that he loved Catherine of Aragon, a Twitter dialogue was sparked. While some agreed with me, others offered up different views. So, I decided to put the question to a Twitter poll, asking people to name Henry's most beloved wife. Since Twitter polls only allow up to four options, I opted not to include his fourth wife Anne of Cleves, whom he rejected upon first sight, as well as his last wife Catherine Parr. Although I told respondents they could "write in" either of these two, no one did.

Here are the results of this very unscientific survey:

Coming in fourth place is Henry's fifth wife the teenaged Catherine Howard, whose nubile youth attracted the lecherous older man. Alas, the girl's flirtatious and flighty nature proved her downfall. She (unlike her first cousin Anne Boleyn) likely was guilty of the infidelity that cost her her head. She garnered only 2.5% of the votes. 

In third place is said older cousin Anne Boleyn, the woman for whom Henry changed the nation's relationship with God. His infatuation for the sophisticated young woman, who had been trained in the continental courts of France and Burgundy, burned for years as she denied him access to her person while he remained married to his first wife. Unable to secure an annulment from the Pope in Rome after trying everything he and his advisors could conceive. He broke with Rome, declared himself the head of Church of England, and (not surprisingly) agreed when his new Church decided that his first marriage was invalid. Despite his long wait and indefatigable battle to marry her, Henry quickly grew tired of Anne's screeching demands and inability to quickly manufacture a son for him and believed the very likely trumped-up charges of infidelity that were brought to him. Anne was the first of his queen's to be executed. This complex affair led 22.5% of respondents believe Henry loved Anne more than his other wives.

To Royal Bearing (@RoyalBearing), Henry's relationships seemed "More like lust with Anne B and Catherine H."

Second place, with 27.5% of the votes, went to my personal favorite Catherine (read my post The Love Story of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon). Widowed by his older brother when Henry was just a child, Catherine lived in a kind of limbo waiting for their father's to decide her marital fate. She was engaged to Henry and then unengaged. When he inherited the throne as a teenager, he imagined himself as her knight errant and, having rescued her from genteel neglect, married her in a fit of romance. The daughter of Isabella of Castile, Catherine made a fit political partner for him. However, unlike her mother, she was unable to produce more than one living child. Over the years, Henry started to grow concerned about the fitness of that child, the Princess Mary, to succeed him because of her gender. After decades of marriage with a generally pleasant and obedient wife, he expected Catherine to agree that God was punishing him for marrying his brother's widow. She shocked the devil out of him when she didn't and went even further, using all of her political and familial connections to oppose him. By the time, he finally declared himself free of her, his once abundant love had become a seething rage.

RoyalistSupporter (@ProRoyalFamily) called Henry's relationship with Catherine of Aragon real love that wasn't colored by the kind of ulterior motives of his other marriages. "Also I felt he still cared about her after the divorce."

Royal Bearing (@RoyalBearing) wrote, "Catherine of A definitely the closest he seemed to come [to love], especially for reciprocated love."

The Royal Watcher (@saadsalman719) agrees. "I think C of A was the most compatible wife for him and he truly loved her. Had he accepted that she wasn't going to have sons and trained Mary to be a capable ruler then history would have certainly been different today!" (Indeed, imagine new Elizabethan Age.)

Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour
by Remigius van Leemput (after Hans Holbein the Younger)
from the Royal Collection via Wikimedia Commons

Earning nearly half of the votes, Henry's third wife, the docile Jane Seymour earned the crown as his most beloved. Calmer and much more complaisant than her two predecessors, Jane did something both of them had failed to do: she gave Henry a son. Then, she promptly succumbed to childbed fever leaving Henry to grieve her loss just 18 months after he had married her. He himself seemed devoted to her sanctified memory, even painting her into a family portraits for years after she had died.

As Cheryl Shifflet (@cheryl_shifflet) commented, "Jane Seymour for sure. She gave Henry his much desired and needed son. I also read her mourned her quite a bit." 

Royal Bearing (@RoyalBearing) sees it differently: "Jane S might have been love but giving him his heir & her early death turned her into a saint so difficult to tell his feelings beneath for her."

So, what do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.